Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Plants can do maths

22.01.2016

The carnivorous Venus flytrap carefully plans its meals: It can count how often it is touched by an insect to calculate the digestive effort. This discovery has been made by plant scientists of the University of Würzburg.

Usually, plants are eaten by animals and humans. With carnivorous plants, however, it's the other way round: They have specialised in animals as an extra source of nutrition to help them survive in moors or other nutrient-poor sites.


Insect on a Venus flytrap – it has not snapped shut yet.

(Photo: Sönke Scherzer)

Take the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) for example: It has a trapping structure formed by the terminal portion of leaves and is triggered by tiny hairs on their inner surface. These sensors allow the plant to discover, catch and digest flies and other fast animals.

The trap's insides are covered by a turf of red glands. This flower-like appearance combined with fruity smells attracts many insects. Looking for nectar, the visitors inevitably touch the three sensor hairs located on each of the lobes. Based on the number of times the trigger hair is stimulated, the plant decides whether to snap the trap closed and start digestion. This means that the plant is capable of counting.

The discovery was made by an international team of researchers around biophysicist Professor Rainer Hedrich from the University of Würzburg. Their work has been published in the renowned journal Current Biology.

Trap closes on "two"

If a trigger hair on the Venus flytrap is stimulated only slightly, it will signal the first prey contact by transmitting a bio-electrical signal. "One signal does not yet cause a reaction – it could be false alarm after all," says Hedrich. But a second stimulation already causes the trap to snap close in the blink of an eye.

If the prey stayed calm now, there would be no other signal. In that case, the trap will open again after a half day. But since the trapped animals usually put up quite a fight, they trigger a virtual fireworks of signals sealing their fate for good.

This is because the Venus flytrap can count further, as Hedrich's colleague Sönke Scherzer found out. He measured that a trapped insect triggers some 60 signals per hour. To imitate the contact stimuli, Scherzer nudged individual sensory hairs up to 60 times in an hour to see what happened.

Digestive juices start to flow from "five"

The result: Two or more stimuli activate the pathway of the contact and wound hormone jasmonate JA. At five and more signals, the plant additionally activates the genes for digestions enzymes in all of its 37,000 glands. This activation does not take place if the jasmonate signal pathway is suppressed in experiments prior to mechanical stimulation. "We have thus proved that the electrical signal is converted into a hormone signal in the glands," Hedrich further.

Five or more signals also stimulate the transport molecules that provide for the absorption of the digested insects into the plant. While searching for this mechanism, one gene caught the attention of Würzburg Ph.D. student Jennifer Böhm. It is activated by both touching the sensory hairs and by the hormone jasmonate. She was able to demonstrate that it is an ion channel which transports sodium. Large quantities of this nutrient salt accrue when the insects are digested.

The plant can also do maths

"We asked ourselves whether the trap can calculate how many channels it must provide to remove the sodium," Hedrich explains. Obviously, the plant is able to do that: The bigger the prey animal, the more fiercely it will struggle and the more frequently the sensory hairs are stimulated. In that case, the Venus flytrap will produce more ion channels than for a weakly struggling animal.

And what about the plant's memory? According to Hedrich, the Venus flytrap can remember the number of prey contacts for at least four hours. Now the researchers want to study the molecular bases of retentivity and learn whether the sensory performance of plants and animals share similar underlying principles.

Funded by the European Research Council

Hedrich's exploration of the Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants is backed by top-level funding: In 2010, the European Research Council (ERC) allocated him an "Advanced Grant" worth 2.5 million euros for this purpose. Within the scope of the ERC project "Carnivorom", Hedrich's team is on the lookout for those genes that make plants carnivorous.

„The Venus flytrap Dionaea muscipula counts prey-induced action potentials to induce sodium uptake“, Böhm, J., Scherzer, S., Krol, E., Kreuzer, I., von Meyer, K., Lorey, C., Mueller, T.D., Shabala, L., Monte, I., Solano, R., Al-Rasheid, K.A.S., Rennenberg, H., Shabala, S., Neher, E., Hedrich, R., Current Biology, January 21, 2015, DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2015.11.057

Contact

Prof. Dr. Rainer Hedrich, Department of Botany I of the University of Würzburg, Phone: +49 931 31-86100, hedrich@botanik.uni-wuerzburg.de


Robert Emmerich | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Further information:
http://www.uni-wuerzburg.de

Further reports about: ERC Julius-Maximilians-Universität genes insects jasmonate sensory hairs sodium

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY

nachricht NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>